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Calls for a supermarket watchdog grow louder

07 October 2009, Previous events

On Tuesday 6 October, as Tesco announced its latest half-year profits of £1.4 billion, campaigners demonstrated outside the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), calling on the government to introduce a supermarket watchdog.

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Top fashion offenders named

06 October 2009, Latest news

Overseas garment workers supplying UK shops have long been earning below a living wage. But what have British retailers done to improve conditions? Next to nothing, according to a new report from War on Want and Labour Behind the Label. Let's Clean Up Fashion documents how top UK fashion brands have trapped overseas garment workers in poverty - and have no coherent plans to address the situation. Read more about the report in a feature piece in The Guardian.

You know the shops that have been named. We've all been to Asda, tried on a top at French Connection or browsed the aisles at River Island. They're part of an industry that amasses more than £36 billion annually. But we cannot let them continue to get away with paying workers less than $2 a day.

We have the email addresses of the CEOs of the 15 worst offenders. Take action with us by writing them now to demand immediate steps for a living wage.

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Asda, Matalan slated over poverty pay

06 October 2009, Press releases

NEWS HOOK: Wednesday, 7 October 2009 World Decent Work Day


Clothes retailers head factory shame list

Asda and Matalan are today named as among the worst British retailers for trapping their overseas garment workers in poverty.

This accusation comes in a new report that cites their lack of any coherent strategy to ensure a living wage for people who make their clothes abroad.

The report (attached) claims there is no coherent strategy to ensure a living wage for workers making clothes for Asda and Matalan stores.

It also criticises nine other retailers for their failure to undertake any real work towards a decent wage - Bhs, Clarks, Debenhams, French Connection, John Lewis, River Island, Sainsbury's, Tesco and the Arcadia Group, which includes Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge, Topman, Topshop and Wallis.

The report - Let's Clean Up Fashion - is being launched today by campaign group Labour Behind the Label and anti-poverty charity War on Want.

It coincides with World Decent Work Day and a new campaign by trade unions and labour rights groups which demands a minimum living wage for all garment producing countries in Asia.

The campaign for an Asian floor wage seeks the same living wage throughout Asia to stop retailers driving down pay.

Research by War on Want found workers making clothes for Asda, Tesco and Primark in Bangladesh earned as little as 7p an hour for up to 80-hour weeks.

The new Let's Clean Up Fashion study shows that retailers taking some action to end poverty pay are Gap, Next, New Look and Monsoon Accessorize.

But the report says that none of the 25 UK high street brands yet pays workers a living wage.

Its author, Anna McMullen, from Labour Behind the Label, said: "Many companies fail to admit that the prices they place on clothing and their own buying practices are to blame for the poverty experienced by those who make our clothes. Global buyers have the power to threaten to relocate production in the search for ever-lower prices. The downward pressure on prices lead to poor wages and keeps garment workers in poverty."

Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "Exploitation is still rife in the fashion industry, and our high street companies are responsible for it. There needs to be proper regulation to ensure fair treatment for the workers who produce our clothes. The British government must act now to end this abuse."

War on Want has launched the biggest-ever campaign to win a living wage for overseas garment workers.

The new Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops drive aims to collect 50,000 names calling on British prime minister Gordon Brown to regulate the industry.

It has brought support from public figures such as Strictly Come Dancing star Jo Wood, pop singer Little Boots, actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Ashley Jensen, designer Betty Jackson and comedians Jo Brand and Francesca Martinez.

People can add their names on the campaign's website at http://www.lovefashionhatesweatshops.org

CONTACTS

Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

Anna McMullen, the report's author at Labour Behind the Label (+44) (0)7786 832035


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Supermarket watchdog needed now

06 October 2009, Press releases

NEWS HOOKS

Tesco announces quarterly results.

Government has less than 30 days to respond to the Competition Commission's recommendation for a supermarket ombudsman.

WHEN? 9.30 BST, Tuesday 6 October 2009

WHERE? Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET

WHAT? Campaigners representing a broad coalition of international development and environmental NGOs, including War on Want, Friends of the Earth, ActionAid, and Traidcraft are targeting the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. They are calling on the Secretary of State for Business, Lord Mandelson, to back the creation of a supermarket ombudsman that will protect suppliers from damaging trading practices, both at home and overseas.

HOW? Campaigners dressed as Tesco and Asda chiefs will stage a tug of war with gagged and bound farmers in the middle to show how suppliers in the UK and overseas are being squeezed by the unfair practices of our supermarkets.


Farmers - gagged and bound by supermarkets bullies - tell Mandelson: ‘Supermarket watchdog needed now!'

Consumer support for a supermarket watchdog culminates today as campaigners gather outside the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills in London. Over 60,000 people have taken action to support better supermarket regulation and campaigners will today hand in the latest 4,000 action cards calling on Lord Mandelson to establish a watchdog to stop supermarkets bullying their suppliers.

Time is running out for Lord Mandelson to take a public stance on the watchdog, with less than 30 days remaining before the deadline for government to respond passes.

The action takes place on the day that Tesco releases its latest half-year sales figures. Last year the retail giant made record profits of more than £3 billion, yet continues to squeeze its suppliers with devastating impacts on farmers and workers both in the UK and overseas.

In April 2008, following a major two-year inquiry, the Competition Commission recommended an enhanced Code of Practice for supermarkets policed by an ombudsman to prevent the ‘transfer of excessive risk and unexpected costs' on to suppliers which, the Commission found, would reduce quality and choice for the nation's shoppers if left unchecked [1].

Major supermarkets including Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons rejected the opportunity to voluntarily sign up to an ombudsman. Now the decision is in the hands of the government.

A recent YouGov poll [2] shows that eight out of 10 shoppers support a supermarket watchdog, while over 180 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion backing the measure [3]. The Liberal Democrats endorsed the creation of an ombudsman at their party conference. Opposition leader David Cameron has also signalled his support for a watchdog, as has the Minister of State for Food, Farming and Environment, Jim Fitzpatrick.

Simon McRae, Senior Campaigns Officer at War on Want said: "Supermarkets in the UK are shamelessly opposing an independent watchdog that would prevent them bullying suppliers and investigate claims of abuse. The ball is now firmly in the Secretary of State's court to take on the supermarkets and back a watchdog."

Camilla Porter, Campaigns Manager at Traidcraft said: "This is the third inquiry into the groceries market in eight years which has found that supermarkets abuse their market position and suppliers and workers suffer as a result. The government should now follow the Competition Commission's recommendation and establish an ombudsman."

Helen Rimmer, Campaigner at Friends of the Earth said: "UK farmers are being gagged and bound by the supermarkets who bully them into submission and blacklist those that speak out. With more than 4,000 British farming jobs lost in each year, we urgently need a watchdog to protect farmers, the environment and rural communities."

Dominic Eagleton, Policy Officer at ActionAid said: "Supermarket practices result in a perverse transfer of wealth from farmers and workers in poor countries to retailers in the UK. The ombudsman is a sensible response to this problem, but the question still remains - will Lord Mandelson side with poor producers and British shoppers, or cave in to the supermarket giants?"

NOTES TO EDITORS:

CONTACTS:

  • Simon McRae, War on Want Senior Campaigner 07779146043
  • Seb Klier, War on Want Campaigner 07969791949
  • Helen Rimmer, Food Campaigner. Friends of the Earth 07940006783
  • Camilla Porter, Campaigns Manager, Traidcraft 07810678828
  • Dominic Eagleton, Policy Officer, ActionAid 07796683205

1. The final report from the Competition Commission on the Groceries market can be found here: www.competition-commission.org.uk/rep_pub/reports/2008/fulltext/538.pdf

2. YouGov interviewed 2,124 people for the poll between 20-24 November 2008. The survey was carried out online and all figures have been weighted to be representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

3. EDM 560 for a grocery market Ombudsman has been signed by 183 MPs. edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=37589&SESSION=899

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Fashion and the financial crisis

04 October 2009, Latest news

After reading online recaps of the latest exhibitions, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the industry, shaken by the global meltdown, has only recently discovered the importance of shaving costs.

The truth is that the fashion industry has long been scaling back costs by exploiting workers at the bottom of the supply chain. To increase their profits, top clothing brands exert pressure on overseas suppliers to produce more clothing for the same price or less. This pinch on suppliers is passed on to workers, who are forced into longer hours for shockingly low wages.

We applaud the industry's embrace of recycled clothing and other eco-friendly initiatives that save money. But these efforts must not obscure the grim fact of sweatshops, and the harmful business practices of clothing companies that have made them a reality.

To learn more about how the business practices of top brands affect workers at the very bottom of supply chain, check out both of our Fashion Victims reports.

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Child labour exposé to premiere tonight

30 September 2009, Latest news

Tonight, BBC 3 will air "Kids for Sale: Stacey Dooley Investigates", a two-part programme by the anti-sweatshop campaigner that looks into the issue of child labour.

Stacey Dooley, who made a name for herself with the acclaimed "Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts" series, is a supporter of Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops. At the launch of the LFHS campaign, the TV campaigner spoke about the importance of signing our call for an end to sweatshops.

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War on Want calls for an end to violence against South African shack dwellers

30 September 2009, Latest news

War on Want has expressed grave concern over the recent attacks by armed assailants against shack dwellers residing in informal settlements in Durban.

According to reports from Abahlali baseMjondolo, a non-violent community-based advocacy group and a War on Want partner organisation, on 26 September a violent mob of 30-40 men wielding knives and guns broke into the homes of people living in the Kennedy Road settlement. The assailants proceeded to burn and destroy their shacks, many of which belonged to members of the Kennedy Road Development Committee, a group affiliated to Abahlali baseMjondolo.

An unknown number of people have been killed and seriously injured in the violence, and hundreds of families who fled the scene have lost their homes and possessions. Abahlali baseMjondolo has indicated that local police forces failed to intervene in defence of the shack dwellers. It has also been reported that some local representatives of the ANC supported the attacks.

War on Want is calling for an immediate end to the violence at Kennedy Road. It also demands an immediate investigation into those who instigated the hostilities, as well as into the reports of police failure to defend residents' lives and properties.

We express our solidarity with Abahlali baseMjondolo and all those committed to peaceful, democratic and inclusive community action to improve the living conditions of South Africa's shack dwellers.


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Sweatshop scandal hits close to home

28 September 2009, Latest news

Proving that sweatshops don't just exist in the developing world, earlier this month UK authorities carried out a raid on a sweatshop in London's East End. At least 35 workers were found on site sewing garments for Dila Limited, which is a supplier for the high street chain Jane Norman. Though the conditions facing workers in London differ greatly from those in places like Dhaka, the raid serves as a reminder of how this issue is truly universal.

This case also shows the importance of labour regulations and proper vetting of suppliers. If we can't hold shops accountable for failing to check the labour standards of factories in the UK, how can we expect them to take seriously the abuses occurring in far off places like Bangladesh?

Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops focuses mostly on how supply chains cross borders. But the campaign's broader goal is to eliminate sweatshops wherever they exist.

Ambitious? Absolutely. But it's also necessary - and it can be done if we get the general public behind us by signing our call.

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Israel slammed for detention of human rights activist

25 September 2009, Press releases

Charity calls for immediate release of Palestinian campaigner

The UK human rights charity War on Want has today called on the Israeli authorities to immediately release Mohammad Othman, a prominent Palestinian human rights activist arrested this week and currently being detained without charge.

Mr Othman, a 33-year-old human rights activist and advocate of the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS), was arrested on 22 September on his return from Norway, where he was promoting a BDS campaign.

He is currently being held in administrative detention, not being told of the charges against him. The Israeli authorities have scheduled his hearing for Tuesday 29 September in a military court.

It is believed that Othman is the first Palestinian to be imprisoned by Israel in response to BDS advocacy activity.

War on Want today accused the Israeli government of targeting and intimidating Palestinian activists who are promoting boycott and sanctions movements against Israel.

Yasmin Khan, Senior Campaigns Officer at War on Want, said: "War on Want condemns the arrest and detention of Mohammad Othman by the Israeli authorities, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release. It is unacceptable for Israel to be targeting Palestinian human right defenders with such intimidation."

Othman is involved with War on Want partner Stop the Wall, the grassroots anti-Apartheid Wall campaign, and has dedicated the last 10 years of his life to the defence of Palestinian human rights. His village, Jayyous, in the occupied West Bank, has lost most of its fertile agricultural land to Israel's illegal Wall and settlements.

For more information, please contact Yasmin Khan at War on Want on +44 (0)20 7549 0592.

Notes to Editors

1. War on Want has made representations about Mr Othman to the British Consul General in East Jerusalem, and to the Israeli embassy in London.

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Green fashion and the drive to end sweatshops

24 September 2009, Latest news

Fashion is going green. This trend towards eco-friendly clothing has never been more apparent than at a recent event in Italy to promote 'Ever Manifesto', a new fashion project committed to environmental sustainability. The manifesto, which was launched during Milan Fashion Week, promotes the ways in which the industry can "unify aesthetics with ethics", according to the New York Times.

Efforts to clean up the fashion industry by reducing its environmental impact are of vital importance. But a commitment to eco-friendly clothing is only half the battle. For the fashion industry to be truly ethical, it must guarantee the rights of the people at the bottom of the supply chain who make our clothes.

These goals are complementary - the drive for green fashion shares many of the same priorities as the movement to improve conditions for garment workers. Strong government regulation, for instance, is necessary to achieve both.

Whether you're a anti-sweatshop campaigner or eco-warrior, human rights activist or trade unionist, chances are that you'll agree that it's time to put an end to sweatshops once and for all.

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12 months on, finance still rules the world

24 September 2009, Press releases

Campaigners call for an end to bonus culture, tough rules on the City and a radical shake-up of IMF from Pittsburgh G20

Campaign groups today issued a sharp criticism of the G20's timid attempts to deal with the financial system in the wake of the economic crisis. UK anti-poverty and environment groups told G20 leaders meeting in Pittsburgh this weekend (1) that the opportunity to create a fairer world was slipping through their fingers.

Jubilee Debt Campaign, War on Want, World Development Movement, Friends of the Earth and the Bretton Woods Project (2) say that while Western leaders look for ‘green shoots', the vast majority of the world's population continues to suffer the impact of a crisis caused by the excesses of the financial sector.

They argue that without significant structural reform, any new growth will be unsustainable and volatile, deepening the inequalities in the global economy.

In particular, the groups are demanding action on five key areas:

1. Tough action to regulate the financial sector - including prohibitions and controls on speculation, derivatives trading, complex financial instruments, short-term or damaging investment, and, vitally, much stronger action to close down tax havens;

2. End the bonus culture - ending incentives for finance workers to create unsustainable lending and giving a fair wage for a fair day's work;

3. Radical reform of the global economy - most urgently the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral institutions, ensuring they are democratic and accountable, and the creation of a debt tribunal to cancel unpayable and unjust Third World debts;

4. Massive investment in ‘Green Jobs' - both helping the UK economy to create sustainable growth, and assisting developing countries, through grant funding and technology transfer, to develop in a sustainable manner.

5. A currency transaction tax to curb bank profits and bonuses. As well as restraining bank excesses. Such a tax could generate billions for developing countries to use in the fight against poverty.

Ruth Tanner from War on Want said:

"The financial crisis has provided a once-in-a-generation opportunity to radically overhaul the structures of global finance - to bring an end to the rule of the banks and the casino culture that has created the gross inequalities that characterise today's world. We need changes even bigger than those Roosevelt made as a result of the last Great Depression. Instead we are getting more of the same."

Nick Dearden from Jubilee Debt Campaign said:

"While millions of people suffer the results of a crisis that was not of their making, those who are responsible are allowed to go on behaving as if nothing has happened. The G20 have ignored radical calls for action from the developing world - to transform the global economy, cancel debts, and stop forcing free market fundamentalism onto the majority. History will not forgive the failure of the G20 to meet this challenge."

Asad Rehman from Friends of the Earth said:

"The alarm bells are ringing loudly - world leaders must wake up to the threat of catastrophic climate change and take urgent steps to slash emissions. The days of putting profit before people and the planet must end if we are to have any chance of a truly sustainable future. But it's not all doom and gloom. A new economic approach based on cutting energy waste and developing the world's vast green energy sources will create millions of new jobs and business opportunities, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and ensure a safer, cleaner future for us all."

Campaigners cited continued signs that the economic crisis is affecting millions of people and that reforms to date had done very little to create a more sustainable economy:

- Up to 60 million people could be thrown out of work by end of 2009, bringing total unemployment to 240 million, 90 million of them young people;

- 200 million workers, mostly in developing economies, are at risk of being pushed into poverty;

- An additional 700,000 babies are likely to die before their first birthday as a result of the crisis - with girls making up the vast majority of this figure;

- In the UK almost 2.5 million people are now jobless, nearly a million of them under 25;

- UNCTAD's chief economist stated recently: "All these rises in markets are said to reflect economic recovery but it is just another bubble... Banks have been rescued by the taxpayer and are just returning to casino-style speculation that brought us trouble in the first place."

- Adair Turner, Chair of the Financial Services Authority said on Tuesday that "British citizens will be burdened for many years with either higher taxes or cuts in public services - because of an economic crisis whose origins lay in the financial system, a crisis cooked up in trading rooms where not just a few but many people earned annual bonuses equal to a lifetime's earnings of some of those now suffering the consequences..... We need radical change."

ENDS

For more information contact:

Nick Dearden, Jubilee Debt Campaign on 07932 335464

Asad Rehman, Friends of the Earth on 077201 47280

Paul Collins, War on Want on 07983 550 728

Notes to Editors

1. The G20 is holding a special Heads of Summit meeting to discuss the economic crisis in Pittsburgh on 24 and 25 September. Gordon Brown is President of the G20, but US President Obama will chair this meeting. More information at: www.pittsburghsummit.gov.

2. Jubilee Debt Campaign, War on Want, Friends of the Earth, World Development Movement and Bretton Woods Project are leading members of the Put People First platform, formed in response to the financial crisis, www.putpeoplefirst.org.uk

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Watchdog campaign receives big boost following party vote

23 September 2009, Latest news

In a major step forward in the campaign to stop supermarket abuse, the Liberal Democrats joined the call for a supermarket watchdog at their annual conference in Bournemouth.

Plans for a watchdog were adopted as part of their national policy, a move that will lead to increased pressure for the body when parliament reconvenes in October.

The Liberal Democracts are the first of the major parties to commit to the watchdog in the form of an ombudsman following the Competition Commission's formal recommendation to the government in favour of one.

War on Want has been calling for a watchdog that would govern the relationship between supermarkets and suppliers overseas and stop supermarkets abusing their power. To increase their profits supermarkets squeeze overseas suppliers, a practice which leads to appalling conditions and poverty wages for workers.

It's time that the government followed the Lib Dems and showed their support and political will for a watchdog. Lord Mandelson is formally required to respond to the Competition Commission's recommendation in November, so please take action now.

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Watchdog campaign receives big boost

22 September 2009, Latest news

Today the Liberal Democrats passed a motion at their annual conference supporting a supermarket watchdog.

A watchdog would govern the relationship between suppliers and supermarkets, making sure that supermarkets don't abuse their buyer power, which happens all too frequently. This abuse takes the form of squeezing suppliers abroad, a practice which hits those workers producing the goods the hardest. Any of this sound familiar?

This level of support for a supermarket watchdog sets an important precedent. We can secure key allies in favour of regulating overseas supply chains. With enough popular support, it is possible to make the issue of labour violations abroad a political priority.

If we can help prevent supermarket abuse, why can't we do the same with the fashion industry? All we need is a groundswell of support from ordinary people in the UK who are concerned about how their clothes are being made. This kind of campaign has worked before - and it can work again.

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LFHS coalition growing stronger by the day

22 September 2009, Latest news

Good news from Belgium! The International Textile, Garment & Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF), a Brussels-based trade union and a global leader in the fight against sweatshops, has signed on in support of Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops. This news comes only days after several key British trade unions joined the campaign.

We're pleased to have such strong backing from the trade union movement - our coalition is growing stronger every day. Their support, coupled with the signatures of many thousands of people, will go a long way towards helping us end sweatshops. There's a lot more work to be done, so please sign our call now to demand government action.

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Trade unions display their support for LFHS

21 September 2009, Latest news

At last week's Trade Union Congress conference trade union leaders signed up to Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops, marking an important step for the campaign as we seek to get 50,000 signatures. Among those who joined our call - and posed for our photo gallery - are Dave Prentis (Unison), Mark Serwotka (PCS), Sally Hunt (UCU), Billy Hayes (CWU), Bob Crow (RMT), Paul Noon (Prospect), Colin Moses (Prison Officers Association) and Joe Marino (Bakers Union).

Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops is about improving conditions for workers. But it's also about protecting their jobs. We therefore aren't calling for a boycott of shops supplied by sweatshops, which would only put thousands of jobs at risk. That's why we're calling for strong and urgent government regulation of the industry. And the support of the trade union movement is a real boost towards achieving that goal.

Sally Hunt UCU
Sally Hunt, General Secretary, UCU
Paul Noon Prospect
Paul Noon, General Secretary, Prospect
Joe Marino BFAWU
Joe Marino, General Secretary, BFAWU
Mark_Serwotka_PCS
Mark Serwotka, General Secretary, PCS
Dave Pentis UNISON
Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON
Colin Moses POA
Colin Moses, National Chairman, POA
Bob Crow RMT
Bob Crow, General Secretary, RMT
Billy Hayes CWU
Billy Hayes, General Secretary, CWU
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